Summary Review of Court Systems -
Structure of Civil Courts
The Idaho Constitution creates a “unified and integrated judicial system” overseen by the Supreme Court. Idaho Const. art. V, § 2. The Idaho Constitution identifies specifically the Supreme Court, district courts and “such other courts inferior to the Supreme Court as established by the legislature.” Idaho Const. art. V, § 2.
Currently, Idaho’s Judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Courts and Magistrate Courts. I.C. § 1-101. Discussed further below, Magistrate Courts are a division within the District Court.
Idaho consists of seven judicial districts with the respective districts encompassing anywhere from four to ten counties. See I.C. Ch. 1-8. The legislature prescribes the number of District Court judges within a district and where a District Court shall keep “Resident Chambers” or the cities within the judicial district where the District Courts are located. I.C. § 1-801. Smaller Idaho counties may not have Resident Chambers. However, every county must provide “suitable and adequate facilities for the district court.” I.C. § 1-1613.
Except for limited rules setting forth matters like hearing dates and times within a Judicial District, Idaho does not utilize local rules. Instead, the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure generally govern civil matters heard in the District Courts. Idaho’s Appellate Courts likewise utilize the Idaho Appellate Rules. Criminal and domestic matters heard by the Magistrate Courts, including infractions, misdemeanor criminal matters, family law, and small claim actions all utilize their own unique court rules.
Attorneys may not appear in small claims courts in Idaho. I.C. § 1-2307.
The Supreme Court adopted the Idaho Rules for Electronic Filing and Service. Attorneys in civil matters must use Idaho’s “iCourt” online portal to file all pleadings with limited exceptions for documents like original wills which parties must file conventionally and electronically. Self-represented parties may elect to use Idaho’s electronic court filing system if they so desire.
Idaho cities do not have municipal courts; instead, municipal matters are generally heard by the Magistrate Court. Idaho Const. art. V, § 14. There are five tribal courts within Idaho.
Idaho also uses administrative tribunals for matters such as tax appeals, industrial insurance matters, and the like. However, Idaho does not recognize these tribunals as courts of record. See I.C. § 1-102. Of note, Idaho judicial lexicon also utilizes the term “administrative judge” or “administrative district judge.” These are not judges for an administrative tribunal but are instead a District Court Judge, elected by his peers, to manage the administrative affairs of the judicial district. I.C. § 1-703.
Basis of Jurisdiction
The Supreme Court holds original jurisdiction for claims against the State and appellate jurisdiction over the District Courts. Idaho Const. art. V, §§ 9-10. When exercising original jurisdiction in claims against the State, the Idaho Supreme Court’s “decision shall be merely recommendatory.” Idaho Const. art. V, § 10.
The statewide Court of Appeals holds appellate jurisdiction over the District Court in “all cases assigned to it by the Idaho Supreme Court.” I.C. § 1-2406(1). However, the Court of Appeals by statute may not hear cases that invoke the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction, appeals from the imposition of sentences of capital punishment in criminal cases, appeals from the Industrial Commission or Public Utilities Commission. I.C. § 1-2406(1).
Idaho’s District Courts hold original jurisdiction over all civil matters and appellate jurisdiction over the Magistrate Courts. By statute, “all actions of any kind shall be filed in the proper district court.” I.C. § 1-104. The District Court’s original jurisdiction includes “all cases and proceedings” and the issuance of writs including “all writs necessary to the exercise of its powers.” I.C. § 1-705(1)-(2). District Courts hold appellate jurisdiction over the Magistrate Courts “and to all other matters and cases wherein appeal is allowed by law” from lesser tribunals. I.C. § 1-705(3).
The Magistrate Courts are, by statute, a “division of the district court.” I.C. § 1-2201. Idaho Code Section 1-2208 and Idaho Court Administrative Rule 5 set forth the limited and enumerated jurisdiction of the Magistrate Courts. The magistrate courts generally hear: (1) civil claims actions of less than $10,000, (2) misdemeanor criminal matters, (3) family and domestic matters (i.e., divorce, parentage, and adoption), (4) probate matters, and (5) judgment execution matters. In addition, the Magistrate Division also includes a “Small Claims Department” which hears small claims of less than $5,000. I.C. § 1-2301. The Small Claims Department may not award punitive damages or damages for pain and suffering.
Idaho has no commercial courts.
Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 37.1 allows a civil court to refer a case to mediation by motion of a party or sua sponte by the Court upon seven days’ notice. I.R.C.P. 37.1(d)(1), (4). If referred to mediation, the parties may select a mediator themselves within twenty-eight days or the court may appoint a mediator for the parties. I.R.C.P. 37.1(e). The first mediation session must occur within forty-two days of the mediator’s appointment and the parties or mediator must advise the court of the results of said mediation within seven days of the last mediation session. I.R.C.P. 37.1(f)-(g). The rule requires the “attorneys who will be primarily responsible for handling the actual trial of the matter, and all parties, or insurers, if applicable, with authority to settle” to attend the mediation sessions. I.R.C.P. 37.1(j).
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